Several weeks ago, a few hundred students marched into the streets of Caracas and other cities in Venezuela to protest against President Nicolas Maduro and the Chavista government. Since then, the protests have grown by the thousands and turned violent.
Sparked by the violent death of actress and former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and calls by opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to protest the poor economic situation, the students have called for Maduro’s resignation and an end to the chronic scarcity of basic goods, out of control inflation, and high levels of violence and murder in the country.
Riot police have been out in force, firing tear gas and buckshot at protesters to disperse the crowds. So far, the protests have claimed six lives.
Below are some pictures from the rapidly unfolding protests. WARNING: Some of these photos are graphic.
Peaceful protests began several weeks ago in cities and towns across the country. They are the largest President Maduro has faced in his first year in office.
AP Photo/Fernando Llano
Student leaders met with police officers to try to set rules for the march to avoid violence, but the situation quickly devolved. Police attempted to disperse the crowd with water cannons and tear gas.
Despite accusations from the government that extremist protesters caused the violence, protesters have maintained that they are peaceful and unarmed.
Unnamed thugs, who many think are Chavista-associated guerrillas, have begun to claim lives. The Maduro government claims that the shooters are opposition supporters, disguised as Chavistas in order to incite violence.In response, protesters erected and burned garbage barricades to block highways.
The police retaliated by beating and arresting protesters and firing rubber bullets into the crowd.
They used water cannons to put out the fires and clear protesters from the highway.
The response has not deterred the protesters, who are only growing in numbers.
At the center of the opposition is the Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) party, headed by the former mayor of Chacao municipality in Caracas, Leopoldo Lopez.
Venezuelan special forces broke into the party’s headquarters on Monday, demanding the national coordinator for the party, Carlos Vecchio. The Maduro government has begun to crack down on the popular opposition party, whom Maduro calls fascists and terrorists.
The Maduro government called for the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges of terrorism, murder, and conspiracy. On Tuesday, Lopez agreed to turn himself in, after one last rally. The streets filled to hear him speak.
While standing on the statue of independence hero Jose Marti, Lopez declared “I am handing myself over to an unfair justice system … May my imprisonment serve to wake the people up.” As he stepped down from the statue, he was taken into custody by police.
Meanwhile, in Valencia, 100 miles from Caracas, Venezuelan beauty queen Genesis Carmona was killed while protesting the government. She is the sixth confirmed death to occur during the protests.
At the same time, President Maduro held a pro-government rally that drew massive crowds. Even now, the Venezuelan public is sharply divided between those who support and those who oppose the government.
The arrest of Lopez has fuelled the protesters, who continue to flood the streets. Hooded extremists have begun to riot and the clashes between protesters and police continue.
President Maduro has said that there will be no more anti-government protests. “This is not Ukraine,” he told supporters during a rally. Protesters aren’t listening. It looks like the situation could deteriorate further.
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